Caitlin Clark takes hard foul but doesn’t flinch in Fever’s win over Angel Reese and Sky

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Fever coaches jumped to their feet, as did Chicago Sky rookie Angel Reese. Feeling as though their franchise player had just received a cheap shot, Fever coaches begged officials to issue a flagrant or technical foul on Sky guard Chennedy Carter, who had knocked rookie Caitlin Clark to the court. Reese, who had been sitting on the bench, cheered on her teammate. This tension had been building throughout Saturday’s game, and it finally boiled over with 15.1 seconds left in the third quarter.

On the previous play, after Clark slapped the ball away from Carter, which led to an Aliyah Boston layup, Clark let Carter hear about it. Carter responded on the other end by sinking a midrange jumper, but that wasn’t enough. Carter then walked up to Clark, yelled at her, and knocked her down. She didn’t make a play on the ball. She didn’t even try to. The ball hadn’t been inbounded yet before Clark was upended.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” Clark said afterward. “But I think it’s just like, ‘Respond, calm down and let your play do the talking.’”

The free throw Clark sank afterward — which wound up the difference in the Fever’s 71-70 victory — spoke volumes.

In a fiery contest featuring familiar faces and rekindled rivalries, Clark and the Fever stayed cool and extinguished the Sky. This game featured players from the last three NCAA championships, most notably Clark and Reese. Two months ago, Clark and Iowa ended Reese’s college career. Two years ago, Reese and LSU denied Clark a national title.

There was no love lost between the two All-Americans in college, and while they both tipped their cap to each other leading up to Saturday’s contest, there was no love lost when Clark was shoved to the deck by Carter in the third quarter. As the two teams headed to their benches for a breather before the final frame, Reese gave Carter a big hug, while Clark complained to the officials.

The play was not reviewed to see if it met the criteria for a flagrant foul. Fever coach Christie Sides said she would probably send a video of it to the league office as part of what she believes has become a theme throughout Clark’s rookie season: the 22-year-old “getting hammered” by defenders and not being properly officiated. Sides recently received a technical for arguing with officials when Clark encountered an abundance of contact as she drove for a layup against the Storm; and in an earlier game against the Storm, Clark was hit on the head and fell to the ground.

“I think at this point, I know I’m gonna take a couple hard shots a game, and that’s what it is,” Clark said. “I’m trying not to let it bother me and just stay in the game, stay (focused on) what’s important because usually it’s the second person that gets caught if you retaliate.”

Still, it would have been understandable if Clark, who leads the league with three technical fouls this season, took matters into her own hands after her dustup with Carter. And for the most part, she did — just not in a way that hurt her team.

“I’m trying not to get fined,” Sides said later when asked about officiating. “We’re just gonna keep sending these possessions to the league and these plays, and hopefully they’ll start taking a better look at some of the things we see happening or that we think is happening. I’m just more happy that Caitlin handled it the way that she did.”

Fever GM Lin Dunn didn’t hold back, though. Her X account called for the league to “cleanup the crap!”

Carter declined to explain what prompted the confrontation. “I ain’t answering no Caitlin Clark questions,” she said after the game.

She didn’t need to. Clark spoke for herself on the court.

The rookie finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Turnovers continue to be an issue as she coughed up five, but if that hard foul from Carter was meant to deter her, Clark didn’t flinch.

She remained poised and helped engineer the play of the game early in the fourth quarter. Following a missed jumper by Chicago’s Elizabeth Williams, Clark pulled down the rebound and was off to the races. She used two dribbles to jump-start a fast break before throwing it ahead to Erica Wheeler, who then lobbed the ball toward the rim. Kelsey Mitchell came swooping in to catch it and cap off an and-1 alley-oop layup while being fouled by Williams. The crowd erupted as Mitchell high-fived a friend sitting courtside, and Clark ran down the court fist-pumping.

“E-Dub probably could’ve had a layup, but just an unselfish play by her and she gave it to Kelsey,” Clark said. “Those are just energizing team plays, and I think that’s definitely a moment that we needed at that point, and Kelsey made a really impressive play to finish it, so it was fun.”

It was also collective. All five Fever starters scored in double figures, including Mitchell who finished with a team-high 18 points. Her acrobatic layup gave Indiana a 64-57 lead it almost squandered until Boston saved the day. The reigning Rookie of the Year shot just 4 of 14 for 10 points, but she provided the biggest basket of the afternoon. With the Fever clinging to a 68-67 late fourth-quarter lead, Boston ended the Sky’s 8-0 run by converting an and-1 layup over her former South Carolina teammate Kamilla Cardoso, who made her season debut. When the ball went through the net, Boston roared to the crowd.

“I think she stayed in it, regardless of if her shot was falling,” said Fever forward NaLyssa Smith, who totaled 17 points and nine rebounds. “You never seen her drop her head, get in her feelings, nothing. She played hard on defense, she rebounded for us, she ran hard, she screened hard, she did everything we needed her to do. … She did big things, so I feel like that and-1, she deserved it.”

The Fever shot just 39.1 percent from the field and 24 percent from the 3-point line. Clark noted that in previous games, that would’ve been a recipe for a loss. However, Indiana took a step forward Saturday with its toughness, starting with its highly-touted rookie.

Carter’s hard foul on Clark sent a message, and the Fever sent one back.

“These moments down the stretch of the games, that’s when it really tells you where you’re at as a team and how good you are — when it gets gritty and it gets ugly,” Mitchell said. “I think we were resilient. We were respectful of each other’s time and space as far as getting the right shot, and I think we did it together.”

(Photo of Caitlin Clark and Chennedy Carter: Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

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